Union raises concerns over enforcement of mandatory face coverings in shops

Usdaw said it does not want enforcement to fall to shopworkers

Unions have raised concerns around the enforcement of mandatory face coverings in shops
Unions have raised concerns around the enforcement of mandatory face coverings in shops

Concerns over the practical enforcement of the new requirement to wear a face covering in shops have been raised by the leading shop workers union, Usdaw.

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that face coverings would be mandatory in shops from July 10 at her daily briefing, a move that was welcomed by most across the retail sector.

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However, Stewart Forrest, Usdaw’s Scottish divisional officer said his biggest concern was around enforcement.

Responding to the First Minister’s announcement, Mr Forrest said: “Usdaw worked with the Scottish Retail Consortium on joint safety guidance for shops based on the two-metre rule and in our experience retailers have taken that seriously and are complying. We see no reason why that should be relaxed now that the Scottish Government has made face coverings mandatory in stores.

“Our big concern is who enforces mandatory face coverings? We do not want shopworkers to be expected to turn people away from the store because they do not have a face covering or it is not being worn properly.

“We accept that face coverings can limit the spread of the virus, but they do more to protect others rather than the wearer and that needs to be understood.

“Safety in stores needs customer co-operation and I am shocked that abuse of shopworkers has doubled during the Coronavirus emergency.

“Many incidents are related to enforcing social distancing and we fear that compulsory face coverings will just add another flashpoint to an already difficult situation.

“We urge customers to respect staff and observe social distancing. At no time should abuse be a part of the job. Shopworkers deserve respect.”

Ms Sturgeon stated at her briefing that it would be “unreasonable and unfair” to expect shopworkers to enforce the law, and that police would enforce it “sensitively and proportionately”.

She said: “The regulations that will be published are likely to follow very closely the situation on public transport so in terms of enforcement that would involve for people not complying, potentially the imposition of a fixed penalty notice.

“It is not something I think is fair or reasonable to expect workers in shops to enforce so police would be able in certain circumstances to impose fixed penalty notices but the police will enforce these things very proportionately and sensitively.

“I recognise very readily that this is not the easiest thing for the police to enforce either which is why all of us can help by doing this voluntarily even though it is going to be backed up by law.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said it was “encouraging” enforcement of mandatory face coverings would not be put on staff.

He said: “The First Minister’s announcement is further proof that there will be no immediate return to normal shopping. We’ve supported the government’s view that the voluntary wearing of face coverings by customers can help to reduce the risk of transmission of this virus; in conjunction with using hand sanitiser and maintaining physical distancing etiquette in stores. Our members will seek to make this policy work.

“We understand the enforcement of this policy on customers will not fall on hard-pressed shop staff, which is encouraging. Retail workers are already responsible for maintaining physical distancing and hygiene regimes in stores to keep customers safe.

“Leaving enforcement to the authorities should hopefully remove any potential risk of new frictions or flashpoints with customers.

“It’s therefore very welcome that Scottish Ministers have listened to our representations and understood while retailers and their staff will work to support this measure, it won’t be their legal duty to enforce it.”

Andrew McRae, the Federation for Small Businesses’ Scotland policy chair, said it was “crucial” clear guidance is made available for businesses to follow.

He said: “This is another welcome step along the road to freeing us from lockdown and getting the country back to business. There’s a real need, if we’re to stem the tide of rising job losses and avoid long-term damage, to get as much of the economy up and running as quickly and safely as possible.

“There is a lot in this announcement and it is complicated – particularly around the two-metre rule. So, it will be crucial that the businesses who will be in charge of implementing the new rules are given clear guidance on the rules and their practical application.

“That’s especially the case with mandatory face coverings in shops. That will be a big change for small retailers and it would have been easier to prepare if this was flagged ahead of them re-opening on Monday. Now there’s very limited time to implement this and understandable concern about creating tensions with customers.”

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said: “This is a reasonable approach which will maintain public health while easing the restrictions that would have made it impossible for many hospitality and retail businesses to operate.

“While no-one wants to see the need for social distancing, or indeed other mitigations like face coverings, to last longer than necessary, we believe the measures announced today strike a proportionate balance. Businesses now need as much detail as possible on how this will work, and urgently.”

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